Online Testing Is Coming to New Jersey Schools -- Ready or Not
Education department confident that testing rollout will hit its mark, some school administrators uneasy about 2014-2015 deadline
Courtesy of NJ Spotlight.com
The future of state testing is starting to be felt in New Jersey’s school districts, as schools push to get up to speed with the technology that will be needed for the new online assessments.
The testing -- which is being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) -- is about to go through its first pilot evaluations in a about a dozen districts. State officials said it remains on track to be in place for the 2014-2015 school year.
Translation: by the spring of 2015, close to 1 million students between Grades 3 and 11 are expected to sit at laptops or tablets taking their annual state math and language arts exams.
That will be no small technological feat for an education infrastructure that plays catch-up every year as it is.
The state Department of Education has started to collect information from districts as to what they need in terms of technology, from software and high-speed connections to the number of available workstations or tablets.
State officials say it shouldn’t be too big a lift, with many schools already far along in their technology plan and expected to easily meet the requirements. But not all teachers and administrators share that optimistic opinion.
PARCC issued its latest specifications last month, and the state followed up with its own directives.
“The specifications [for the new testing] seem pretty low compared to what districts are doing anyway,” said Bari Erlichson, the state’s assistant commissioner, who is overseeing the effort and has been traveling the state to pitch its merits.
“These kind of devices should already be part of their instructional technology,” she said in an interview. “They should be using these devices in the daily learning.”
Still, at least anecdotally, several district leaders say this is likely to be a steep transition.
More than 500 school administrators took part in one of the first presentations of the plans in a department webinar last week, and several said the reality of the requirements is started to hit, with plenty of questions still to answer.
“We are certainly not up to the technology needed right now, and we have only two years before we need to be,” said Teresa Rafferty, interim superintendent in Piscataway, who said the requirements in her district alone will take $1.6 million investment up front.
About one-third of those costs will go to upgrading computers to meet operating system requirements. The rest is needed to ensure that enough computers will be available to test a single grade over the course of a day, perhaps by staggering morning and afternoon sessions.
Rafferty said a big iPad project is already underway in her middle schools. “But especially in the lower grades, we need equipment,” she said. “We have Netbooks, but I’m not sure they will work anymore. And there are earphones and external keyboards.”
She and others also talked about the larger cultural change in testing that’s coming at the same time as other shifts in school funding and accountability, including a new high-stakes teacher evaluation system that will be in place next year.
“The overall cost is significant, and I wonder if our technology dollars would be put to better use for student learning, rather than ensuring we have enough workstations and space to add additional assessments to a system already overburdened with testing,” said Charles Sampson, superintendent of Freehold Regional High School Districts.